October Editorial

That Bomb, The Torture

Ali Cobby-Eckermann

 

a whisper arrives. two thousand. two thousand or more. did you hear it?

that bomb, the torture of red turning green, the anguish of munda earth turning to glass

did you hear it? two thousand. two thousand or more yams burnt useless inside the ground

poison trapped in glass like a coffin, like a museum. did you hear it?

two thousand. two thousand years or more. can’t go away. you poisoned it good!

two thousand. two thousand or more

tears we cried for our Land, for the fear you gave us, for the sickness and the dying.

two thousand years of memory here, two thousand or more

peaceful place this place, happy place till you come with your bombs.

you stole our happiness with your toxic ways.

you stole our stories, two thousand. two thousand or more.

animals can’t live here, there’s too much crying.

two thousand, two thousand or more. our people gone missing. did you hear it?

where’s my Tjamu? you seen him? where’s my daughter? you seen her?

mummy, you seen my mum? dad?

two thousand, two thousand times or more. I ask for truth. Do you know where they are?

silence sits here. two thousand. two thousand or more.

trees dead with their arms in the sky. All the birds missing. no bird song here. just silence,

like a funeral. two thousand. two thousand or more.

a whisper arrives. did you hear it? two thousand. two thousand or more.

might be spirit come together. did you hear it? might be our hearts.

it sounds like glass. our hearts breaking.

but we are stronger than that. we always rise us mob.

two thousand. two thousand or more. our spirit comes together. we make a heart.

did you see it? the fragments. It’s there in the glass.

our heart grows there as we mourn out Land.

it’s part of us. we love it. poison and all.

YS_ThunderRainingPoison_2015 2.jpg


Yhonnie Scarce, Thunder Raining Poison, 2015,

2000 Blown glass yams, stainless steel and reinforced wire,

Dimensions variable, Installation view at Tarnanthi Festival Adelaide,

Art Galleryof South Australia Photography: Janelle Low,

Image courtesy of the artist, AGSA and THIS IS NO FANTASY

 

If the last editorial was a letter to the unaddressed, then this editorial acts as speech beside and in solidarity with a selection of responses made to decrees that knew not of their being. Historical, political and social, these decrees were declared without call for response, or regard for the people or land they would ultimately affect. This is the nature of colonisation, and in particular nuclear colonisation. The effect of colonisation is an attempt to erase, a flattening, stretching and re-living of precedence.

Sound, like the debris of nuclear fallout, is also carried by the wind. Like the wind, it moves around, between and through things. It could be said, that this issue emerges from recognising voice, that which can be carried textually, orally, visually and psychologically, to where and by whom. When a call is made, that looks for no response nor listens to what precedes it, speech will leak, warnings may be ignored, and continuing narratives will be nurtured.

This text is preceded by a poem written by Ali Cobby-Eckermann titled That Bomb, The Torture. responding the Yhonnie Scarce’s installation Thunder Raining Poison: testimonies in solidarity recounting, as both protest and account, of the impact atomic bomb testing had, and still has, on Aboriginal Land in South Australia by the British government during the 1940s–60s.

Blade Runner was set in November 2019 and it was also an exhibition at KINGS Artist-Run. In Ridley Scott’s film, humans are colonising other planets because of nuclear disaster, mass-extinction, capitalism, nuclear dystopia and resistance. This future is rendered as a present and past experience in the exhibition Bladerunner was set in November 2019 by the artists, activists and friends Tessa Rex, Yul Scarf, Jessie Boylan, Andrea Steves, Alex Moulis, Gem Romuld and Crunch Kefford. Together they camped near Yalata, travelling, speaking, listening, looking and being with that and those affected by the British Nuclear tests. These artist have kindly provided narratives that not only counter, but also accompany, that which is officially recorded in government documents, policies and propaganda that sit comfortably in sealed official archives and copyrighted and embedded in black and white videos hosted on You Tube. [1] Orated ‘proper’, one short film ‘ Operation Buffalo’ opens with an image of a child shooting at clay pigeons, the narrator plumply observing ‘Just a chip off the old block’. This edit, is clearly a mistake, but in some ways it reveals the ongoing perpetuation of the Terra Nullius myth. The narrator’s speech is timed with images intended to shock and awe attempting to qualifying colonial power in a country still wrangling with the effects of international influence, the automated transcripts input for the final speaking comments almost chilling : (silence). [2]

The other short 2 minute 20 second film Maralinga Nuclear Test - 1957 uploaded by British Movietone, one of the oldest and most extensive newsreel archive, is chronicled by a similar voice. [3] Movietone documents spanning 1895–1986 and self-declared as being some of world’s most enduring images have recently been digitised by the Associated Press. Images of men, artillery, ariel views of newly established military bases, bunkers, weapons testing, camera’s documenting events, crisscrossing flares creating grids in the sky for measuring and monitoring the scale of atomic clouds as image. These are images of power, military strength proceeding a cold war, and following Hiroshima and Nagasaki: official accounts narrated by the voice of the instigator, the oppressor, the scientist, the coloniser.

YS_ThunderRainingPoison_HR_12_2015.3.jpg


Yhonnie Scarce, Thunder Raining Poison, 2015,

2000 Blown glass yams, stainless steel and reinforced wire,

Dimensions variable, Installation view at Tarnanthi Festival Adelaide,

Art Galleryof South Australia Photography: Janelle Low,

Image courtesy of the artist, AGSA and THIS IS NO FANTASY

The accompanying sound work by the Bladerunner group with Linda Dement, is to Dr Ponk’s collected letters, is to Ali Cobby-Eckermann’s poem is to Yhonnie Scarce’s Thunder Raining Poison. The earth, the sand, the desert at Maralinga did turn to glass, and it is in glass that Scarce works, and glass that Cobby-Eckermann carefully carry’s with the Bladerunner group and others, passing on to us.

We can a hold a glass to the door to listen to what we are not supposed to be hearing: generally transparent, its strength and resistance to chemicals, heat, pressure and breakage exists in productive contradiction with its elasticity and at times fragile solidity; seemingly apt for nurturing these narratives.

Beside these poetics, Chris Hill’s historical account investigates the relationship that developed between The University of Adelaide and The University of Birmingham via Australian physicist Professor Marcus Oliphant. This relationship subsequently resulted in the employment of Otto Frisch and Rudolf Peierls, scientists whose interest in the ‘power’ of nuclear energy led to the creation of the atomic bomb. These developments eventually returned to haunt the landscape and people of South Australia through the very tests that Scarce, Eckerman and the artists and activists involved with Bladerunner was set in November 2019 reflect on.

Dr Ponk a.k.a Yul Scarf, created a work mediating how place might communicate with past, present and future. Aunty Sue Coleman-Haseldine, a Kokatha elder from Ceduna who participated in the campaign leading to the negotiation of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in 2017 and contributed to the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to ICAN in the same year, writes an open letter to future generations, in which she reminds us that by protecting the land, we are protecting our inner selves. [4] This is a deeply spiritual realtionship; ‘How do we learn?’ she asks. ‘Things aren’t written down, they are spoken, often when they were written, it was wrong.’

The request isn’t explicit, but underlying this letter is a demand to listen. Deep, committed, long term listening. Not only to each other, but to the land, its waters, animals and wind.

 

Jessie Boylan/Andrea Steves/Crunch Kefford/Gem Romuld/Alex Moulis/Yul Scarf/Tessa Rex/code by Linda Dement, Dispersal, 2019, wild sound and voice recordings, meteorological data. Courtesy of the artists and collaborators. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are advised that this website may contain voices of deceased people.

 

[1] See: Martin McKenzie-Murray , Unusual secrecy around 1950s nuclear testing, May 18, 2019. https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/news/law-crime/2019/05/18/unusual-secrecy-around-1950s-nuclear-testing/15581016008158

Deborah Snow, Tantalising secrets of Australia's intelligence world revealed, Sydney Morning Herald, August 31, 2019 https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/tantalising-secrets-of-australia-s-intelligence-world-revealed-20190826-p52ku9.html

Robert Milliken, MARALINGA THE FALLOUT, Australian Finacial Review, Nov 6, 1987, https://www.afr.com/politics/maralinga-the-fallout-19871106-k2hy8

Frank Walker, Maralinga: The Chilling Expose of Our Secret Nuclear Shame and Betrayal of Our Troops and Country, Hachette Australia, 2014

Elizabeth Tynan, Atomic Thunder: The Maralinga Story, NewSouth Publishing, 2016.

 

[2] "Shock and awe" is the term the Bush administration uses for its massive hi-tech air strikes on the Iraqis. As a military strategy, it is discussed at length in a 1996 book published by the Command and Control Research Program (CCRP) within the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense of the United States. https://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Shock_and_awe

 

[3] Maralinga Nuclear Test - 1957 Transcript:

Speaker 1:
Maralinga Test Range in the stark, wide-open spaces of South Australia. Operation Buffalo involved setting up a village for servicemen taking part. And the team of scientists was headed by Sir William Penney, seen arriving to supervise and observe the atomic explosions.

Speaker 1:
Tanks were one or several target response items, 25 pounders and ack-ack guns were another. How would they stand up to the explosions at various distances? All had to be tested first, of course.

Speaker 1:
He's got a hangover already, but it's nothing to the headache that's coming to him and his pals.

Speaker 1:
Special camera towers were built to make the film record we'll see in a moment. Quite an assignment, I should think. And for everyone present, the few seconds before each device is exploded must arise a feeling of extreme, nervous tension.

Speaker 1:
Patterns of tracer rockets criss-cross the impressive and symmetrical atomic cloud formation, playing their part in the scientific record of the best. And scientists in special protective clothing advance to the target data. If the scene of havoc is less impressive than might've been expected, remember that these test items were placed many miles away from the explosion.

Speaker 1:
The Valiant, as we know, is one of Britain's A-bombers, and here's one winging away over Maralinga to drop another device during last year's series. Altogether, four atomic blasts were counted out. The development of Britain's nuclear weapons progresses apace.

Speaker 1:
(silence).

 

[4] The aunt of Yhonnie Scarce, further details on the life and work of Sue Coleman-Haseldine can be found via the following link: http://www.livingpeacemuseum.org.au/omeka/exhibits/show/sue-coleman-haseldine

Dr Ponk- Aunty Sue to future gen.jpg


Dr Ponk with Aunty Sue Coleman-Haseldine, to the future generations, 19th- 20th August 2019, fire, country, keeping, sharing, knowledge with typewriter on paper, smaller than A4. Courtesy the artists.

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Dr Ponk with Avon Hudson, Dear Maralinga, 17th August 2019, time, reflection & typewriter on paper, smaller than A4. Courtesy the artists.

 

Dr Ponk- Russle's Story(1).jpg


Dr Ponk with Russell 'Shane' Bryant, the story of my father's father, remembering, story telling, 3 fires, waru, generations, resilience, facts with typewriter on papers, smaller than A4. Page 1 of 2. Courtesy the artists.

Dr Ponk- Russle's Story(2).jpg


Dr Ponk with Russell 'Shane' Bryant, the story of my father's father, remembering, story telling, 3 fires, waru, generations, resilience, facts with typewriter on papers, smaller than A4. Page 2 of 2. Courtesy the artists.

Dr Ponk- Russle's Story(3).jpg


Dr Ponk with Russell 'Shane' Bryant and Aunty Rita Bryant, Camping outside Yalata, talking, listening, while other things are happening with typewriter on paper, smaller than A4. Courtesy the artists.

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Dr Ponk, All the letters on the road to Maralinga, August-September 2019, layers of conversations on carbon copy paper, foolscap. Courtesy the artist.

Air Jordan 1

Bladerunner was set in November 2019, photo credits Chris Bowes.2.jpg

Tessa Rex, Yul Scarf, Jessie Boylan, Andrea Steves, Alex Moulis, Gem Romuld and Crunch Kefford, Bladerunner was set in November 2019, Installation view at Kings Artist-Run, Melbourne, 2019.

Chris Bowes

Bladerunner was set in November 2019, photo credits Chris Bowes.jpg

Tessa Rex, Yul Scarf, Jessie Boylan, Andrea Steves, Alex Moulis, Gem Romuld and Crunch Kefford, Bladerunner was set in November 2019, Installation view at Kings Artist-Run, Melbourne, 2019.

Chris Bowes

Jessie Boylan, Camping Outside Yalata, 2019.jpg

Camping Outside Yalata, 2019

Jessie Boylan

Jessie Boylan, Dr Ponk at Aunty Sue's, 2019.jpg

Dr Ponk at Aunty Sue's, 2019.

Jessie Boylan

DR PONK WITH AUNTY SUE.jpg

Aunty Sue, 20th August 2019

Dr Ponk

DR PONK WITH AVON HUDSON.jpg

Avon, 17 August 2019

Dr Ponk

jessie boylan, dr ponk with russle, 2019.jpg

Dr Ponk with Russle, 2019

Jessie Boylan